Obserevations in social justice from someone who walks a fine line

I’m Hapa. I’m half Filipino, half white. But your average stranger can’t tell I’m mixed. To them, I’m just another white woman.

And man, does that ever put me in some interesting situations when I’m around other “just white” people. And on dating apps. Ugh.

With everything going on out there in the world that is so very, very distressing to me, I thought I’d put fingers to keyboard to share my observations and thoughts from the benefits-slash-drawbacks of walking a fine line between cultures.

  1. Allyship is not an ideology. Allyship is taking on personal risk to you and yours for the advancement of the causes of disadvantaged populations. Think in terms of geopolitics. An ally is not just another country who “likes and supports” democracy. An ally is a country who would take up arms on behalf of another country to preserve democracy. If you’re not willing to go at risk, whether it’s risking the relationship with your racist parents, risking your job by calling out microagressions against black coworkers, or anything else, that’s fine. I get it! But don’t call yourself an ally because you put a racial harmony sign in your living room window for people on the sidewalk to see.
    • An example of the difference between ideology and true allyship is talking to your kids about how “all people should be treated equally” vs coaching your kid to actually physically stand with a bullied kid. Personal risk. What are you prepared to do?
    • While we’re at it, white people can’t just randomly claim allyship. Allyship is bestowed upon you by the populations who are in the struggle. THEY get to determine who is an ally in THEIR cause. Each population in a struggle defines different parameters for what levels of risk allyship entails. Oh, so you’re an ally for social justice? Who says?
  2. You’re probably using the term “woke” wrong. Woke is not “being aware” of social justice issues. Actually, the term is a beautiful, crystal clear example of misappropration of language. The origin is more along the lines of black defense against a threatening, dominant culture – i.e., black people, stay woke to the workings of the dominant culture that threaten to strip away your rights and the safety of your children, and do not be lulled into comfort/mindlessness nor be distracted by what the dominant culture puts in front of you. Maybe others could say it better than that but what woke is NOT is someone the dominant culture being “aware” of struggle. Nope. See here and here.
    • Oh and I love this: “But the very nature of language is that it shifts and changes!” Yes, of course. But now that you know the origin, how will you choose to use it going forward? That’s like white people in the South clinging to the Confederate flag because of how they choose to represent it today and conveniently ignoring its origins. Come on.

The ABSOLUTE FINAL STRAW which caused me to write this – and I’m REALLY trying to contain my rage here – is when white men on dating apps claim Native American heritage.

Really, dude? You’re Native American? 1/16, huh? Oh! A full 1/8? “Cherokee” eh? Let me ask you something: have you had your blood quantum taken, and what do you feel about being tracked by the US government in that way?

Dude, have you ever even MET or TALKED TO someone in the native population? Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – claim Native American heritage on a f’ing dating app. “What are you talking about? That’s my REAL make up! My great-great-grandfather actually WAS a Native American!” Dude, unless you are fully prepared to claim Native American heritage in ALL aspects of your life, please do not selectively use it to get laid. Lame-ass MFs. Ugh.


Dabbling in dating again

My husband took his own life one year, one month, and 4 days ago.

About 6 weeks ago, I signed up for a couple of dating apps, just to test the waters and see how this stuff worked.

My husband and I met through friends. At a party. Seriously, is that ever anyone’s story anymore? We had friends back then who met online, but then lied about how they met because that was so new and awkward at the time.

But now? Swipe left, swipe right, swipe up, down, and around. And all I have is a picture, plus maybe 1-2 lines.

I’m supposed to date through apps this way? This sucks!

I met someone I did connect with. He wrote way more than 1-2 lines on his profile. (So did I.) I found him very attractive. I think we are not out of each other’s leagues.

We are taking it incredibly slow. We have been in contact for 3 weeks. We talked on the phone once recently. Maybe we’ll talk again. He’s nice and flirty and accomplished and smart. He has a little boy the same age as my little girl.

If this turns into something, cool. If not, that’s OK, too. It will have been a fantastic foray into online dating for a novice.

If I never find someone else to partner with, if I never fall in love ever again, if I never remarry…

If I never remarry, I see my life stretching out in front of me… in such awesome glory. I just started my own business after working to make someone else rich for 15+ years. Maybe I’ll do this new thing for 15 years. If so, that would put me at age 57. Our generation will probably live to about 100. That means I could start a third career at 57 and do that for yet another 15 years. Probably something in art. Selling my own, or opening a gallery.

I could start a non-profit arm of my existing business. I could travel anywhere I wanted to. If my daughter settled in another country or another state, I could visit her there often. I could get a PhD in something frivolous… or something not-frivolous, but that’s not as much fun.

I could go into space.

Hey, don’t laugh! I’m serious! It’s commercially available now, though cost-prohibitive for me at a quarter of a million. But it won’t always be cost-prohibitive, either because I’ll make the money or the costs will come down in the next generation – a combination of both, even better. I want to feel weightlessness and see the earth from beyond its atmosphere.

So no sweat. This guy seems nice. But if it goes anywhere, he’s going to have to make room – a lot of room, maybe! – for me.

Explaining a chronic illness

If you want to know how people REALLY think about mental health, read on about my little experiment.

When strangers or acquaintances learn that my husband passed recently, they may broach the topic of how he died. I don’t mind. This is what I tell them:

“My husband was very sick for a long time. He unfortunately was misdiagnosed for about 20 years. The medication he was given definitely kept him alive – it wasn’t an ideal life, but we didn’t know any better. Then, with a new physician, we got his proper diagnosis, but then we had to go down this path of trying to find the medication that would work without the side effects that he couldn’t tolerate, especially the horrible insomnia. Sleeping only 2 hours a night for 3 weeks is just not sustainable. We tried everything! We just ran out of time before we could find the right medication. We found the true diagnosis too late, and we couldn’t land on the right treatment for him before he passed.”

I get the sorrowful looks, and the kind words of sympathy. Then, they ask what his illness was.

“He was bipolar. He completed suicide.”

If I had a nickel for every shocked look I get…

That’s right. It wasn’t cancer. It wasn’t an autoimmune disorder. No congenital defects from childhood. It was mental illness. And nothing about what I said is any less true about his illness or the search for treatment or his death.

When I start out by explaining that he was sick and completed suicide, there is incredible judgment about his “abandonment” of me and our little girl, or his “selfish choice” or whatever. Come on, guys. Would you EVER tell the loved one of a cancer patient that their chronic illness resulting in death was an abandonment or a poor, selfish choice? Completely ridiculous, right?


Gift-giving: thoughtful but inconsiderate

The holiday season was interesting. It was the first without my husband, so of course, there was emotional baggage that needed to be unpacked, sorted, and put away to some degree. But the most fascinating thing I learned about this past holiday season was about the gift-giving.

I’ll admit, I was looking forward to the gift-giving! This was my young daughter’s first Christmas without her dad, and I wanted to make it special! I was looking forward to my friends and family helping me take care of her during a potentially trying time of year.

Instead, it was… well, not what I expected.

People are so wrapped up in their own lives, I realize. People are struggling with how to take care of themselves, so they have limited capacity to take care of others. This makes me a little sad. But it also confuses me: when people are presented with simplicity, they actively choose a harder route. I can’t figure this out.

My kid is really into games and space exploration and monster trucks right now. She prefers her National Geographic book about the solar system over a storybook for bedtime reading. I put together an Amazon wish list of gift ideas for her, and sent it out to friends and family.

All those friends and family were so very generous this past Christmas! Yet only one person bought something off the list. My kid got a TON of Christmas gifts, but only a few she actually enjoyed. I felt a little badly for her. To her credit, my daughter got over the disappointment at unwrapping dolls, and quickly pivoted to playing enthusiastically with the few gifts she liked. She was perfectly fine with my donating all the rest to charity.

All those friends and family were so very thoughtful – their gifts showed they loved and cared for my daughter tremendously. The gifts just weren’t very considerate. The gifts were obviously what THEY wanted her to have and enjoy, what THEY wanted to give, what THEY envisioned her playing with, despite evidence (and explicit direction) to the contrary.

One family member always waits until the last minute to Christmas shop, even though he got the list weeks prior. Why not just do a few mouse clicks to ensure my kid loves what she gets? No… instead there were a lot of text messages with photos of toys at the store in the days leading up to Christmas. “What about this?” I reply no. “What about this instead?” I reply no. “How about this?” I say, oh, she would love that! And then later, another text, “What about this instead?”

What the holy hell! Why are you making your life HARDER right now? I already said YES. Just buy and GO!

In that case, my daughter didn’t actually get a gift from him in time for Christmas. She got it about a week later. Something I approved of, that I knew she would enjoy. And it was something she is playing with LIKE CRAZY.

In another case, a very close friend and “auntie” got the list but made an excuse about not buying off the list, even though she said she LOVED the gifts on the list and would have loved to get one of those for her.

And you bought her something else not even remotely related to anything on the list because … why?

My thoughtful (and considerate!) daughter brought me tears by asking what I wanted for Christmas. Do you know that not one other person asked me what I wanted for Christmas? Not one. Not the family member who insists that she loves me and wants to know me better. Not the friends who insisted they would be there for me no matter what. Instead I got extremely thoughtful gifts that didn’t really serve me or help me.

I just wanted someone to get my car washed and detailed. There are a lot of crumbs I can’t get to from the kiddo eating crackers on long car rides, spiders in the side view mirrors constantly building webs even though I clean them off, and I can’t get the windshield truly streak-free. I was so prepared to provide that answer to the question of what I wanted for Christmas… until I realized I never got the question.

Eh. No time for a pity party. Thoughtful yet inconsiderate gifts don’t make or break anything. We love those friends and family as much as they love us – with abundance and abandon. But I learned an important distinction in gift giving that I hope to take forward into my own practices, and a little something to teach my daughter as well.

I’m excited about life

I have so much to do and accomplish. I’ve done an incredible amount of work this summer on myself, and I think it has been valuable, productive work.

But I felt guilty. Did my husband have to die for me to realize all this potential? Am I using his death to serve me? Is that wrong?

I realized that he taught me incredible lessons about life that I can take forward. He may have completed suicide, but really, that was a single moment in time and doesn’t erase an entire era of living according to his values that I can keep close as I grab ahold of everything that is new again.

These values include:

  • Preserving working class values and addressing income inequality
  • Volunteerism
  • Commitment to education and ongoing learning
  • Questioning authority, finding independent validation
  • Appreciating and protecting nature
  • Doing the right thing, even if it was against rules or guidelines
  • Seeking help when you need it
  • Travel, exploration
  • Voting, active participation in the political process, local organization and engagement
  • Being neighborly, helping each other out
  • Creating and maintaining distance from toxic relationships
  • Honesty
  • Financial planning and financial responsibility
  • Following through, keeping your word
  • Investing in relationships, putting in the time and work necessary
  • Health and fitness
  • Animal rights, loving and valuing and respecting them
  • Sustainability in everyday practice/ life

Despite his death, he lived his values every day. Those who knew him know this is true. I don’t need to feel guilty about moving on and loving my life, if I keep the values close.

My daughter’s process

My charming, delightful 4 year old is processing her father’s death in very normal and healthy ways. I think.

Mama, will we get a new Dada? Can’t you just buy one?

No, honey. That’s illegal.

But who’s going to shave and make popcorn?

I can do those things, kiddo! But yeah, Dada was the BEST shaver and popcorn maker ever, huh?

I follow you around the house because I don’t want you to die and suddenly I’m in a house of ghosts.

Ghosts can be cool, so if you see one, let me know because I’d like to meet it. But you can certainly follow me around anytime. You’re my mini-me!

I’m sad because Dada’s spirit hasn’t visited me yet, like Moana’s grandma visited her.

Sometimes their visits are just a feeling. Does anything remind you of Dada? Guess what – he’s there when you think of him. It’s MAGIC!

Mama I’m afraid of the dark because of ghosts and monsters. But I can defeat the monsters. Will you take care of any ghosts?

I’ve got your back, kiddo.

Kids are so cool.

Conditional support

One thing I’m learning in the aftermath of my husband’s death and navigating this new life of single motherhood is that friends’ and family members’ grand declarations of, “I’m there for you,” is TOTALLY conditional.

I’m there for you…

  • If I don’t already have plans
  • As long as it’s the same way I’ve already been there for you in the past (this is a big one, it turns out)
  • If you pay me to babysit
  • When I suggest/ offer the interaction in question, like dinner out at a restaurant or something starting at 7pm (but I decline when you make the suggestion, like an hour at the park in the afternoon or just hanging out in our backyard)

Each and every one of these conditions has come up for me. It is beyond painful because it expands the feeling of aloneness that I already have because my husband/ partner/ lover/ roommate is dead.

It is embarrassing, too. It takes a lot of courage to reach out for help. I have no problem doing it, since you never know unless you ask, and especially after my husband’s death, I needed a lot of help, and I asked all over the damn place. It still doesn’t mean that asking is easy. So when I go to the people who most emphatically told me that they’re here for us, it’s because I really need it. I’m not going to abuse your offer. I’m not asking in the same way your other friend down the street might ask you to check on their cat while you’re on vacation.

Actually, that might be a good reference point. If you would decline someone who asked you to watch their pet, don’t tell me you’re there for me and my kid, whatever I might need. (And especially don’t add at the end, “And I really mean it!”) I would have been 100% fine with, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Leave it at that.

And whatever, I get it. This is really on me. I misinterpreted the offers of support to mean that these people are willing to have their lives disrupted, when that is absolutely NOT the case at all. My bad. The healthy way to look at this is (1) they are perfectly within their rights to do whatever they want, they do not actually have any obligation to me or my daughter, and (2) disappointment and hurt is what I feel, but I can choose to have different thoughts and feelings about these rejections.

BUT. In case it would ever help anyone reconsider what they tell someone after a tragedy, or how they respond to a single mom who just asked you for something, then this post. I’m going to have to work on the other stuff about resetting my expectations and managing my other emotions on my own.